Grace And Truth
Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
This statement is the key to all that follows in John’s Gospel. Right through it you find the same double emphasis, upon truth on one hand and upon grace on the other. Truth will always make demands, and grace will always be there to meet them. In the incident recorded in chapter 8 of the woman taken in adultery, truth shines forth. The Lord did not say to her, “It’s all right; you have not sinned.” He did not suggest to the Jews that what she had done was nothing serious, and that he was not deeply concerned about it. No his words were: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” The truth was there: she had indeed sinned, and according to the law she should have been stoned; but so also was the grace, for when all had departed he turned to her with “Neither do I condemn thee.” Throughput the Gospel of John you will find truth is always matched by grace in this way.
There are two responses that we find when we sin: conviction and condemnation. The truths of God’s Word point out the fact of our sin. There is no idea in the Bible that we should excuse or make light of sin. Neither are we given permission to define what is sin and what isn’t. It is true that over the years there have been many who have decided it was within their rights and power to either make things a sin that really weren’t or on the other hand to excuse things that are sins as though they are not. Our error is when we as flawed humans try to determine what is right and what is wrong. The “forbidden” fruit in the Garden was the “knowledge of good and evil,” but in the eating of it there came sin and the nature of humanity became flawed. We read in Genesis that prior to the flood “men did what was right in their own eyes” and because of that their wickedness became so great that the human race was destroying itself. Think for a moment where our world would be if everyone abandoned the truths and teachings of the Ten Commandments.
Where then do we find a list of sins that are indeed sins and not some human attempt to control others? They are discovered nowhere else but in the Scriptures. Having said this I must add to it that the first requirement is to accept the entirety of the Bible as inspired-God breathed-and without error in its original language. The second requirement is to accept that God has the right and power to define what is righteous and what is evil.
Once we are confronted with truth we now face two paths- the one of condemnation or the one of conviction. Neither of these set aside the fact of truth. In the story of the woman taken in the act of adultery, the fact was that she had sinned for Scriptural truth defined adultery as sin in the Ten Commandments. The punishment for adultery was also described: death by stoning. That no doubt seems harsh to us today for we know nothing of the tight knit Jewish community. All the Jews were direct descendants of Abraham and Isaac. The twelve tribes descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. Beyond the betrayal of a spouse there was the potential of dividing the families and tribes. That one act of sin had the power of destruction laying in wait. Of course that is still true. Unfaithfulness in marriage lays waste to families, wreaks havoc in the lives of the innocent, especially the children, and breaks apart families. The momentary act of stolen love often scars people and families for years. David and Bathsheba chose the way of adultery and a man died, a child died, and David’s family suffered the consequences for years, even after he died. We might consider adultery no big thing thing in our world of promiscuity, but God doesn’t. The woman that day found herself facing the truth of her sin and the penalty prescribed by the law. Those who brought her to Jesus only offered condemnation for they had no power to forgive her sin. That’s us. When we become aware of our sin we often berate ourselves for being so foolish. Sometimes we even attempt to exact a penalty or a retribution from ourselves, hoping in some way to make it right. Other times, like David we try to hide or cover it up hoping nobody will ever know. We even coin phrases to justify our sins such as, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” as though God never visits Vegas. We might be able to hide our sins from others, but in our hearts we know the truth. Sometimes, like Adam and Eve, we seek to blame someone else for our sins as though we had no choice in the matter. The Bible doesn’t say, but I dare say the woman that day must have been thinking about the man that had enticed her to commit adultery. We might be tempted to think that it was unfair that she was being condemned and he apparently was escaping. From a human view that would be true, but it didn’t negate the truth that she had sinned. This is true for us as well. We might be able to give reason for our actions, justify them as socially acceptable, use the common excuse, “everybody else is doing it,” or rationalize that we are mere humans but none of that negates the truth that we have sinned.
The revealing of sin doesn’t have to end with condemnation and punishment for truth is accompanied by grace- God’s grace. Beginning in the Garden, as the first two humans were confronted with truth- they had disobeyed and sinned-, with death hanging over their heads, grace stepped in and through the sacrifice of innocent animals their condemnation was transmuted. Ultimately Christ would take their punishment for the law of justice and truth must be satisfied. In David’s life, although he suffered the consequences, grace prevailed and his throne was established through Christ forever. Now in the case of the woman brought before Jesus, grace spoke. The words Jesus spoke are incredibly important and we dare not leave any of the conversation out. His first words are to those who use truth to condemn. Let me be clear here. We are to speak truth for that’s what Christ did. He didn’t gloss over sins, ignore them, or accept them. Remember when Peter spoke wrong? Jesus didn’t excuse Peter and say, “Well, he doesn’t know any better.” No He said, “Get thee behind me Satan…” What Jesus said to the mob that day and to us is “let those who have no sin exact justice from those who sin.” Speaking truth and calling what the Bible calls sin is not condemnation. But using truth to make others suffer while we justify ourselves is wrong. In other words we choose to love those who sin without accepting their sins. We have no power to change that person so we bring them to God who can and will. The danger is creating an atmosphere where there is no conviction of the Holy Spirit. We will only repent when we receive the truth of our sin. Until we are convicted by the Holy Spirit we will remain convinced that what we are doing is acceptable. That is the work of God.
Notice that Jesus didn’t justify the woman’s sin even in light of the fact that her accusers were sinners themselves. After they all left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.” Should we stop reading, we might be tempted to think that Jesus was excusing her sin and she was free to return and continue practicing adultery. Some today seem to think that being accepted by God means that He also accepts their sinful lifestyles. If that’s the case and there is no expectation of change, please tell me why then did Christ die on the cross and why will there be those who do not enter into heaven. It is foolish at best and arrogant of us to believe that sin was such a bad thing that God would lay the punishment of it on Christ and then allow us to continue practicing such things. Conviction means that we have been convinced that our ways are wrong and we come to Christ begging for His forgiveness and transformation. That day Jesus lifted the despair of condemnation of the woman. She wouldn’t receive the stoning. He gave her grace, grace with instruction: “Go and sin no more.” You see grace isn’t permission to continue in sin. Grace give us space to repent and be changed and live a life of righteousness as we are continuously being transformed by the Holy Spirit.
Both truth and grace are equals. Neither can exist without the other. Those who elevate truth over grace become legalistic and in their world condemnation hangs over every soul. Those who elevate grace over truth condemn themselves and others to remain trapped in sin without deliverance. Both groups miss the blessing of God for when we are confronted with truth and then through grace are given space to repent, we can become people of joy and peace.
Today, if you have been made aware of sin in your life, come to the only One who can forgive and offer grace. If you have those around you who are openly practicing sin, ask the Holy Spirit to speak truth in love through you so that they might find grace and forgiveness. Pray that you will always be open to hear and receive truth. Pray that when you see those around you in sin that your love for them moves you to pray that they will be convicted by the Holy Spirit. Pray that when someone asks you about sin that you will find boldness and grace to give an honest answer that is rooted in Scripture rather than your feelings or culture. Thank God for truth and grace.
Dr. John Thompson